Problem Solver: How can I rapidly rev up direct mail response?

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Dean Rieck
Dean Rieck

Here's the situation: You have a big direct mail program. It's successful, but response has dropped off a bit. Your next mailing deadline is coming up and you know you have to do something to boost response. But you don't have the time or budget to develop new package ideas or conduct elaborate testing. What can you do to quickly and cheaply improve your response?

First, don't panic. This is a more common problem that you may imagine. Even the most successful direct mail packages show fatigue, especially if you're mailing to the same lists over and over.

Second, don't do anything radical. If your direct mail package is truly successful, you don't want to kill it with big, untested changes. This is the time to reach into your bag of tricks and pull out some proven ideas that have worked again and again in situations just like this.

Here are three techniques to consider.

Change the envelope. If your envelope is covered with teasers, change to a plain envelope. If it's big, change to something smaller. If it's white, change to kraft. It's not so much a matter of what you change it to, but that you make a change.

Once people begin to recognize your direct mail piece as something they've received and rejected previously, they trash it on sight. Making a change to the envelope helps your direct mail piece fly under the radar so your recipient will give it a second chance.

Add an insert. The insert can be as simple as a lift note or buckslip. You can use this new element to introduce or highlight a premium, call attention to your guarantee, or provide detail for an important benefit or feature of your product.

This is also one of the easiest ways to run a test in your direct mail package without making changes to other elements. Simply create the insert and include it with a portion of your packages.

Strengthen the offer. You do this by stating your offer in a different way, putting your offer in a more prominent location, adding a time limit, dramatizing your offer, and so on.

One simple technique is to morph your offer into a “yes/no” proposition. While most offers provide a “yes” acceptance statement, the yes/no offer adds a rejection statement to dramatize the decision.

For example: “Yes, I'd like to try the time-saving Veg-o-dicer free for 30 days. Please rush it to me immediately along with my free Super Slicer, mine to keep forever just for trying Veg-o-dicer.” OR “No, I'll keep working 5 times as long to prepare meals. Please give my free Super Slicer (value $29.00) to someone else.”

Of course, it's better to avoid getting yourself into a situation where you need to make a quick change like this. But in the real world, it happens. When it does, trying one of these proven techniques will give you a good shot at boosting response without introducing a lot of cost or effort.

Dean Rieck is a copywriter and designer at Direct Creative. He can be reached at


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